UX Storytelling

Subtitle Trends in user experience design

In response to:
Nessler, Dan (2017), 6 storytelling principles to improve your UX, UX Collective 


As a user experience (UX) practitioner and educator I believe that each micro component is critical to the overall design. In fact, small decisions are so important that the Creator is present in them (Mies). To name a few of those parts: user discovery and archetypal personas, problem definition and solution ideation, best practices and interaction patterns, user motivations and value propositions, rapid prototyping and usability testing. This presents three particularly challenging scenarios:

  1. When describing UX to students, “What is the scope of the discipline?” 

  2. When navigating the design process, “How do we keep a definite and clear sense of direction?”

  3. When articulating the solution, “Why is this experience going to be meaningful and memorable?”

It turns out that UX storytelling answers all three.

1) What is the scope of the discipline?

Describing UX storytelling feels, at first instance, like some sort of corporate misappropriation. However, it really is just a structure that sums up the parts. The following comparison table outlines the traditional elements of storytelling and their corresponding elements in UX.  

Traditional Elements UX Elements
Setting The context of use
Central character: protagonist Target user persona
Antagonist Sceptics (and those lousy competitors)
Supporting characters: sidekick, mentor The brand
Plot (narrative arc: setup, tension, climax, resolution) User story (journey: recruitment, engagement, conversion, retention)
Conflict Problem statement
Character development: redemption story Conversion: prospect to brand advocate
Theme Value
Diction Interaction

2) How do we keep a definite and clear sense of direction?

In the midst of design and development, the story keeps everyone oriented towards the final objective. Beginning with character motivation: once the research has been done, all interviews are complete, and the data has been analyzed, it affirms or disproves creative hunches. From here on forward each decision is weighed against the narrative: If an element supports it, keep it, if not revise it out.

3) Why is this experience going to be meaningful and memorable?

Fiction writing begins with developing a believable character (Gardner p15). The motivation, plot, narrative arc—essentially everything else—stems from this. Narrative is the way humans make sense of what is being offered, and (if it is compelling enough) a reason to choose it, and (just as important) a mnemonic to remember it. Ultimately, if the user is put first, at the inception, the product will include intrinsic value. This is the best story to tell.


Gardner, John (1991) The Art of Writing Fiction, Vintage Books

Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig (1959) On restraint in Design, The New York Herald Tribune, as quoted in https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ludwig_Mies_van_der_Rohe